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Inro and sagemono?


Jake

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I believe that TCP has not discussed this carving situation yet. It is an interesting one, that is for sure. Years ago I saw an inro made by Nick Lamb, and it appeared that he used a power tool of some sort to get to the bottom of the chamber, in my perhaps decade old recollection. There must be some hand tools that would work on the floor, lets put our thinking caps on.

 

A question, does anyone know if the floor of the chamber is expected to have a flat surface or a rounded one when carved from solid wood? I've not handled enough of them to know the answers to the questions that come to mind. Good topic, thanks Jake!

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Hi,

 

I was wondering how you would go about carving an inro from wood. The obvious would I'm guessing be to rout out the center cavity. But how would you safely hold something so small and clean the inside when you're done? Any tips on how the old masters did it? I'm still going through previous posts, so I'll keep an eye out for any info there. Any help would be great.

 

-Jake.

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Hi,

 

I was wondering how you would go about carving an inro from wood. The obvious would I'm guessing be to rout out the center cavity. But how would you safely hold something so small and clean the inside when you're done? Any tips on how the old masters did it? I'm still going through previous posts, so I'll keep an eye out for any info there. Any help would be great.

 

-Jake.

 

Hi Jake

 

My experience of handling inro is minimal, but making a hollowed out form that I should imagine is very similar would not be too difficult.

 

Personally I would perform the hollowing out before making the rest as this would enable you to work with a rectangular shape to which you can easliy cramp larger pieces to extend its surface area and,say, support a router bed in a more stable fashion, or work with it on a drill press. In addition, if you make an irreversible error, you haven't lost a precious carving.

 

For the multi compartment type of container with ,say, a maximum depth of the longest straight router cutter you can buy (50 - 70mm), you could produce it all from a template made from 6-9mm MDF and a guide bush on the router. This would give you a smooth finished, flat bottomed result, requiring no more than final finishing with abrasive papers.

 

For a deeper container, with access to only the usual small workshop facilities, I would be inclined to mark out the recess shape on the top face and drill out all the waste using a drill press to ensure accurate perpendicular holes. Start with careful positioning of the corners (rounded corners will be structurally stronger than sharp ones) and then remove as much waste as you possibly can. You will then need to clean up the whole thing using long reach paring chisels and gouges.

 

Hope this is of some use.

 

Jon

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Thank you Jon. It sounds intuitive and useful. The rounded corners inside the bung is right on. I do recall always a rounded, rather oval opening. The drill press would be essential for lining up the cord holes on either side of the interior cavity. One would have to make an ordered list to follow of the steps, since there are holes that must line up (cord holes), then the verticle must be cut apart into the bung portions of top, middle and bottom, however many one chooses, then several steps after that. It sounds like a fun challenge, especially if one has the router and press. I am machinery poor, but it would be fun to do the exterior of inro! Hmmm. Very interesting... relief carving...

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Hello again everybody,

 

Cool that I sparked a new discussion. Jon, your suggestion on template routing is a good one. I've already made a template jig based on one for mortising knock-down bed hardware. It worked fairly well. but I've gotta tweak it a bit. Dan, thanks also for the link. I've seen this tutorial before and while I don't doubt that his method works I find his instructions a little hard to follow without any images. I think I'm also biased towards using a method that doesn't involve laminating. I'll probably give it a try as well though.

 

Does anyone on this forum have any inro that they could examine on our behalf? I'd like to know if the chamber was made by drillling or laminating. I would also like to know if the inside is as polished as the outside (probably is, I'm guessing). Sort of reverse engineering kind of info. I'm surprised there's not more pictures of them to be found online.

 

-Jake.

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Hi,

The inro topic is very interesting. The usual inro is lacquered or inlayed with various materials not often carved and have several layered compartments. The pieces that are usually carved are tonkotsu which are tobacco boxes and consist of a single piece with a lid . The tonkotsu can be in almost any form. People, animals, fish, reptiles and relief carvings. I have several and when they are hollowed out wood they seem to be carved with chisels since the bottoms are rounded with slight tool marks. Tonkotsu usually have a carved pipe case or a netsuke attached by a cord. Tobacco boxes were usually created by netsuke carvers. The attached picture is of two tonkotsu carved from bamboo sections with attached pipe cases. One is Emma-O with inset eyes. The back is an Oni which opens. The other is also bamboo with a matching pipe case both carved with landscapes and both signed. Books on inro usually include tonkotsu. I can send other pictures if you are interested.

Dick

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Thanks Dick! Photos- yes! Inside shots? How is the flange that the upper bung keys into/onto figured into the main wood of the box, is it added onto or just a thinning from the outer solid wall? In your experience, are inro always made from solid wood, rather than the laminated experiment of the example linked to above? Are the inside corners of the container rounded or squared? Is it uniform between inro? So many questions!

 

I have not had much opportunity to thoroughly examine inro, but maybe at the next netsuke convention, I might get brave and "study" some. I made two from porcelain, but did the flange/bung insertion backwards, or upside down, much to my embarrassment when a Japanese woman looked at it and pointed that out. I had VERY little access to inro back then! It worked for the clay, but it was wrong.

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Hi,

Here are some more shots of the inside of a tonkotsu. One is a little man carved from a soft wood body with boxwood face and arms. The other is a rare three piece (or it might be a inro) tonkotsu. showing the lips and the interior. The pipe case pictured is a dark wood with a copper dragon. the top is antler. The pipe cases are also made by netsuke carvers. You can not believe how thin the sides are to allow a pipe to fit inside. These are all mid to late nineteenth century pieces.

Dick

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Thanks Dick, the photos are very helpful. I am very glad that you have posted these images, to counter balance with great weight, the first uneducated attempts by the well intentioned fellow of the above link. the quality of artists on the forum should have good examples of true netsuke, inro and ojime, if they are interested in learning about the originals before making mistakes like I did with my first inro in porcelain.

 

That clever little man holding the cord, with his face falling out is a charmer! Do you suppose that piece was an ash tray or for holding the tobacco?

 

Do any of your pipe cases have the pipes still in them?

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Hi Janel,

The little guy is a tonkotsu or tobacco box and used to hold tobacco. Ash trays are usually a manju netsuke with a hollow on one side. I looked at some nineteenth century inro today which were damaged and they are built up from thin pieces of wood glued together and lacquered. The rule of thumb on telling the difference between tonkotsu and inro seems to be that tonkotsu are usually carved and are most often two pieces the lid and the body, inro are usually three or more sections and lacquered. There are of course exceptions like the three piece tonkotsu I posted. I have pipes to go with many of my pipe cases. I'll post some tomorrow.

Dick

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Hi Janel,

Here are first two tonkotsu and pipe cases showing the reverse and inside. The relief oni fits so tight and seamlessly that I had a great deal of trouble finding the opening piece. Both of these are bamboo. You can also see the pipe case top and its paper thin sides. Both tonkotsu and pipe case are signed. The other photo shows a boxwood pipe case carved paper thin with an elderly woman on one side and beautiful calligraphy on the other. The second pipe case is antler with very fine piercing. The pipes have tiny bowls and are used with very fine tobacco. They would only hold two or three puffs. They are often mistakenly referred to as opium pipes.

Dick

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God! What beautiful pieces!

I asked you about the century that they were made to know if they smoked tobacco or other substances (not hallucinative substances as opium) similar to our tobacco. Down here in Argentina our indians used to smoke Palán palán (Nicotina glauca) instead. ;)

Thanks for the photographs,

Sebas

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Hi Sebas,

These are all somewhere between 1840 to 1880. They were all used to smoke tobacco which was cut very fine. I have a pouch that still has some tobacco wrapped in a piece of newspaper and the tobacco is very, very fine. Opium was forbidden in Japan under pain of a very unpleasant death. Actors and sumo wrestlers made large ornate tobacco pouches and tonkotsu popular. Here is a tonkotsu that was in the Raymond Bushell collection that was presented to an actor with a poem "How Transient is life! A live person changes into dead bones." I included this picture to show the huge variation in the design of tobacco boxes.

Dick

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  • 3 weeks later...

Yann Christophe Lemaire has been helping me learn about how lacquered inro are constructed. This diagram and description are fascinating, I did not know this about lacquered inro. It makes sense though, the paper forms must be more stable than wood, and stronger when the walls and flanges are so thin. Dick's carved wooden inro are a wonderfully different sort of useful containers. Thanks to all who are contributing to this area of interest regarding inro.

 

inro_ycl.jpg

 

From Yann Christophe:

Here is a new picture to understand how are made lacquered Inro.

They are fully based on a rolled sheet of paper with glue, turned around a basic form consisting in wood or potery.

When each element is ready and dry, the inro-maker combine pieces together with rolled sheet of paper.

He adds many coats of paper to give the inro form.

Then, he begin to paint with lacquer and, after many coats, design the scene.

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